Cafe culture: People seated in cafe

Lattes & Confessions: Why Cafes Are the New Third Place

The rise in cafe culture provides spaces to unwind, relax, socialize among friends and strangers.

The dark, smoky, sometimes nutty scent of coffee isn’t just an aroma. It’s a warm, welcoming hug that beckons me into cafes. Perhaps that’s why I’m a regular — there are whispers of comfort and acceptance swirling in the air, telling you that everything is alright. Maybe that’s why I let my inhibitions melt away as I step through the door. But the real magic isn’t just in the perfect latte; it’s in the symphony of conversations brewing alongside the coffee.

The Third Place Requirement

In today’s world, caffeine is almost a necessity. Hustle is the norm and working longer hours is to be expected. People spend most of their time running around, and if they aren’t toiling away at work, then they are holed up in their house, trying to catch a break from the fast-paced and expensive world outside. As a society, we have lost the third place. The space that is not our work or our home. The space that’s meant to help us unwind from our lives and socialize. The “third place” is a meeting ground where people can connect and grow. Ray Oldenburg coined the term and highlighted how the third place is a requirement. It’s where strangers become friends and friends can meet each other without issues like work, home, and living cost burdening them.

As society and economy become more complex, it’s harder to find spaces that provide the comfort of a third place.

The major concerns are time and resources. That is why there has been a rise in cafe culture. Over the past decade or more, there’s been a gradual increase in cafes. One of the most famous television series, Friends, also aided in the rise of the coffee culture. Sitcoms are a great reflection of how society used to be and how it is now. Several sitcoms had a designated spot for their protagonists to meet in. Friends had Central Perk, How I Met Your Mother had MacLaren’s Pub, and there was Monk’s Cafe in Seinfeld. In recent times, there’s been a shift to more workplace-related comedies like Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Abbott Elementary, Parks and Recreation, and Superstore. Where is today’s third place?

Best Gifts for Coffee Lovers Photo: Hands holding cups of coffee
Credit: Nathan Dumlao

Caffeinated Safe Space

Considering that, for many people, coffee is a necessity, the growing cafe culture makes sense. Even if it is a brief pit stop during the commute from home to the office, it’s the space to be away from the daily mundanity. People are willing to spend a bit of their disposable income in cafes and make it their frequent hangout spot. Cafes make themselves different from restaurants by having a more informal aesthetic. The seating is often closer, and there’s no pressure to leave as soon as you are done. People frequent it to hang out casually with friends or simply sit and work by themselves. This makes it a perfect platform for silly conversations. Plus, the proximity of the seats makes it easy to accidentally eavesdrop on conversations nearby.

The price of coffee has increased significantly, but even for broke college girls (like me), the value is adjusted by the number of hours one can spend there doing nothing. With charging points, free wi-fi, and great workstations, the coffee price seems worth the value. Once you become a regular, it’s also a shared community that welcomes you inside. So, spending that money feels like a lesser strain than before. That’s another beauty of the third place, it makes stepping into a public space easier. 

The menu is designed to appease everyone from the real — and slightly pretentious — black coffee aficionados to the experimenters who savour their cold brews and the sweet, milky coffee drinkers. It becomes the perfect space to unwind, relax, socialize, and confess the weirdest of thoughts to friends and strangers. A cafe is thus a confessional without the priest.

Cafe culture: People sitting at table with drinks in mugs

Cafes: The Confessionals Without a Priest 

The dramatic nature of telling a story in a place that looks nothing like somewhere one should air their dirty laundry is so interesting. What makes us have the most unhinged discussions here?

Why does sipping an overpriced coffee in an aesthetic space make us confess unfiltered thoughts to our friends and strangers? I have made friends out of strangers simply by telling them the wackiest moments of my life. The conversations around me make my life seem sober. I would never be stuck on a date with a man who’s proudly saying he’s in an open relationship because she gained weight. Overhearing this date made every person I met sound a lot saner. While I certainly don’t promote eavesdropping, these stories do help validate our own. Maybe my life isn’t as drastic as I thought.

Some stories scandalize you but sometimes you hear the sweetest of stories, too.

Two friends meet after a decade and feel so overwhelmed. A really interesting movie club discusses the impact of Swann Arlaud’s hair in Anatomy of a Fall. The baristas of my frequented cafe know my deepest worries and most embarrassing fails, and provide their advice with a divine helping of caffeine. 

The sanctity of this place allows for conversation to happen with no care of the world. Because here, the world doesn’t matter. In this hustle of a life, it’s mandatory to have a safe third place to release our swirling thoughts. The confessional-like space of a cafe is the ideal location: What happens in a coffee house stays in the coffee house. The nagging of the endless meetings, the lightness of the wallet, scandalous dating lives, and the pile of house chores is all left outside when one inhales the sweet and rich aroma of coffee.

Header: Wade Austin Ellis

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